The other day I was at the station wailing for the eight oh five, and Alleycat was in the cabin of the train. I didn’t disturb him, passengers aren’t meant to distract the driver while the train’s in motion, and within a few seconds we were off. I waited, hoping that Alleycat would come to find me; but he didn’t and that seemed very strange because usually when I’m around he can’t wait to jump in my lap or wrap himself around my neck. Eventually, after I’d waited for ten minutes or so, I went to the front of the train and listened at the door of the driver’s cabin and that’s when I heard the music. There was a band in there, a three-piece I think, and I could hear someone on the pipes, someone strumming a guitar, and I don’t know what Alleycat was doing if he wasn’t singing along. You’ll realize that the trains in my neck of the woods are crewed by unusual individuals. One of them’s tall, as big as a giant nearly, and he can hardly get along the carriage when it’s packed and he needs to check our tickets. The giant has a pal, who’s maybe half his height, and the pair of them manage the train together. Once I saw them at the side of the tracks, walking along rapidly, the giant taking immense strides, with his pointed cheeks and sharp nose in front of him, and he wasn’t going to wait for the little chap and made him run after him, and he didn’t care if the little fellow had difficulty keeping pace. I could see the little fellow didn’t care either. Obviously, when I got back home I told Bamber and Pink what I’d seen and heard, and Bamber wasn’t impressed at all and listened to my tale from behind the garden gate, and Pink was more interested in her bowl of milk. Only Bertie was amazed by it all and afterwards she sat on her own in the raised beds and thought it all carefully through.
Pink is secretly glad that Alleycat’s gone because she gets more attention in his absence and she often stands in the places where he put his feet, or where he sat, and claims them as her own (although they aren’t hers at all and never can be). By contrast Bamber stays close to the ground and feels for the thunder and listens to the wind and he doesn’t need to pretend he’s Alleycat or anyone except himself. He’s in charge and that’s why he’s down there, low to the ground, with a cat’s purpose, while Pink’s on high trying to be a monster. Bamber keeps marauders at bay, walks the limits, patrols the pathways, and any intruders are beaten back by him alone. Alleycat can’t help him because Alleycat’s far away; and if we see Alleycat crossing the railway line from a distance, or jumping the fences between the station and the tracks, that doesn’t mean that he sees us or needs to show himself; on the contrary, he’s on a mission all his own, a secret charge that doesn’t involve any of us. We know almost nothing of his new life, except that we know what he left behind, or think we do, and Bamber can never forget that once (not long ago at all) it was Alleycat who sat listening to the wind and Alleycat who felt the onset of the storm.
Alleycat knew what he wanted and simply did it – he left to drive trains and let the old life go. One day he was sunning himself on the porch and the next he was far, far away, walking in his footprints. He was as old as the hills or older, but as young as a leveret too, and everyone knows or ought to know that a leveret’s never alone and even if he seems alone he isn’t; his parents are always near at hand and keeping an eye on him no matter how lonely he looks to be.
Pink of course is secretly glad he’s gone because now she doesn’t have to compete with anyone to be the centre of attention.That’s how self-centred she is! Me! Me! Me!
Of course it’s Alleycat who drives the train, and he acts like he can take her anywhere, even to the moon maybe. I see him in the mornings, at the station. He’s up in the cabin, his paws on the levers. Some people (the other commuters) think he’s a pet, but those folk know nothing of cats. In reality every cat’s in charge of himself and goes where he pleases, and does what he wants, and he’s no one’s pet. If he chooses to drive trains you just have to let him. And the humans that ride with him, the stoker, the ticket collector, and the train manager, they might seem to be in charge, but actually it’s Alleycat who calls the shots. No one knows that better than me.
Another thing I know is that every cat has exactly two sides, no more and no less, and nine lives don’t come into it. So, you see, Alleycat might think he’s driving the train, but there’s another side to it because whatever he’s doing he’s definitely doing it for us, for the folks back at Six Foot Way, me and the Looking Glass Lady, Pink, Bamber and the dogs. So in a way, we drive that locomotive from afar and we feel the air in Alleycat’s whiskers when he leans his head out far enough.
When Bertie arrived she was shy and unsure. She’d hide under the sofa or lie in the climbing ivy or under the fence because it felt safe.
But since then Alleycat’s instructed Bamber to keep Bertie safe and naturally that’s made her more confident than she used to be. She may be young but she senses Bamber’s presence and feels him watching over her, and that’s why she’s getting too big for her boots and dragging old Lucy around by the ear and biting her where she shouldn’t.
Alleycat’s been away for a long while, driving trains, but he pops home occasionally, to prove he still exists. The last time he showed his face he had a little friend with him.
He found Bertie in the overhead luggage racks on the eight oh five to Paddington and whiskered her to us in Six Foot way in a few shakes of his tail.
No one knows where Bertie’s from, but she’s settled in perfectly, just as Alleycat anticipated.
Pink’s taken over her education, which means she’s clear that cats are the most important beings on the planet and much the best role models for a small but promising little spaniel dog.
Alleycat had a little word with me yesterday. He’d heard me talking and he knew I was contemplating writing a post that has nothing at all to do with cats.
“You know that’s not possible,” he drawled, “I can’t allow that, not in my blog.”
“I quite understand, Alleycat,” I said, deferentially. “Why don’t I start a new blog and then I can write about other things in that blog and carry on documenting the Ginge Club’s adventures here?”
“You mean you’d write about non-Ginge Club matters?” Alleycat was surprised; he obviously found the concept far-fetched and in rather bad taste; he wrinkled his eyes in disgust and curled his lip scornfully. “Surely you can’t be serious, old chap?”
I affirmed that I really was determined to depart from the norm and write about new things, and when he heard this Alleycat had a little smile at my expense. He narrowed his eyes and advised me to watch my step.
“I want you to make absolutely sure that the two blogs don’t overlap,” he said. “If you can promise me that I may give you my permission to divide your energies, but mark my words, I don’t want you slacking and the Ginge Club posts must always take precedence. I won’t tolerate anything less.”
Alleycat had made his humble wishes known and I had listened very carefully and obediently to his wise words. At least, that’s what I made him think. Later on we gave Pink the news, and she was really agitated and uncertain for about ten seconds and she wondered where it would all lead. With any luck it’ll lead you here.